CES 2021 - the first entirely virtual CES - has begun in earnest today with Intel setting out their stall early for remaining on the cutting edge of all relevant fields while expanding capabilities across the board. Stung somewhat by the attention their competitors garnered over the latter half of 2020, Chipzilla prepared two back-to-back 30-minute keynotes that showcase areas of technological leadership in client and enterprise computing which they'll be pushing heavily in 2021.
Intel's first keynote was presented by Amnon ShaShau, President and CEO of Mobileye (a 2017 acquisition of Intel's). The Israeli computer-vison architects are at the forefront of technology that will enable autonomous vehicles, and their latest test fleets are expected to begin rollout in five cities early in 2021. This will be another critical milestone in their attempts to introduce ubiquitous and affordable autonomous vehicle systems to a market eager for the potential safety improvements they would bring.
In concert with Intel's XPU architects Mobileye are also in the early stages of creating purpose-built SoC's for lidar range finding and real-time spacial orientation and recognition. Preceding this will be radar processing software tailored to autonomous vehicles and their on-board hardware.
In a final announcement they revealed that cars using its current technology have mapped almost 1bn kilometres globally, with more than 8 million km mapped daily. Creating and maintaining a comprehensive representation of worldwide road structures for use in cloud-based autonomous driving is yet another important step towards the development of a ubiquitous AV system, and that capacity can only be increased by having more cars on the road.
Later in the day Intel Executive VP Gregory Bryant was up to introduce Intel's innovations in the computing space. The core focus was on advancements made for their mobile and particularly premium Evo lines, including vPro Evo laptop models for business, Pentium updates for the education sector, and 11th Gen Tiger Lake designs for personal computing.
Bryant began by briefly touching on the Xeon Scalable platform for enterprise customers. A new truly next-generation architecture from Intel has been long-awaited by the sector and it's finally on its way in the form of 10nm Ice Lake-X processors. Production of these highly important chips will be ramping through 2021.
Intel's mobile (i.e. laptop) processors have been a shining light for the brand while beset from a resurgent AMD in the desktop and server space. Their 10th Generation products have been well received, aided by actual availability and the plethora of full-featured models available via OEMs such as Dell and Lenovo.
As part of the Evo initiative Intel have created a new line of i5 and i7 Evo laptops with vPro platform security, manageability and productivity features. The aim is for a fleet of solutions that satisfy the technical needs of a cloud-based enterprise while also fulfilling the desires business users have for an ultrathin portable platform with high performance features.
Joining them in 2021 will be solutions based around the Pentium Silver and Celeron entry-level processors. Now updated to 10th Gen performance levels, they should offer up to 35% increased performance over the previous generation and comprise a range of notebooks ideal for the requirements of Students and Educators.
Schools have experienced increased demand for unit shipments of more than 30% due to changes towards a distance learning teaching paradigm as a COVID-19 mitigation strategy, and Intel believe that this trend will continue long into the future. As a result, the new solutions also incorporate features such as Intel Wifi 6 that improve the overall experience of the platforms that are far from the bleeding-edge of performance. But the corporation has also identified that they have a responsibility to create solutions (products or otherwise) that can narrow the technology gap between different strata of society which distance learning may accentuate, harming disadvantaged communities.
Intel's announcements of 11th Generation Core-based products for mobile platforms continue with a high-performance Chromebook that will form part of the Evo line, and quad-core 11th Gen H-Series processors for ultraportable gaming. These latter models have been developed in partnership with NVIDIA to feature as-yet unannounced graphics hardware, and are intended to provide as-yet unheard of performance punch to laptops as thin as 16mm from partners such as Acer, ASUS and MSI.
One key advantage the platform will have over the competition (at the time of writing) is PCIe 4.0 connectivity. The 11th Generation Core H-series chips all support PCIe 4.0 to the GPU and likely NVMe storage (on selected platforms), pushing performance forward; AMD's Ryzen 4000H-series mobile processors do not support PCIe 4.0 despite being designed with their Zen 2 processor architecture.
Intel's 10th-Gen solutions meanwhile will also be updated with new 8-core/16-thread H-series CPUs clocking up to 5.3GHz, offering a full 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 bandwidth to the GPU (rather than 8 lanes on AMD's 4000H-series). Intel are claiming desktop-caliber performance from this solution, though it remains to be seen what architecture this is based on.
Finally, Intel briefly touched on their plans for the Desktop platform in early 2021. Rocket Lake-S is almost ready for launch and Chipzilla were keen to clarify a few details of the flagship chip due in Q1.
The 11th Gen Intel Core i9-11900K is an 8-core, 16-thread processor clocking up to 5.3GHz with an all-core turbo of up to 4.8GHz. They're claiming improvements in IPC of up to 19% gen-over-gen due to a new core architecture, and this combined with high operating frequencies may see them once again edge out AMD's Ryzen 5000-series chips in gaming. Rocket Lake-S will also support PCIe 4.0 (a first for Intel on Desktop), and in conjunction with NVIDIA graphics likely leverage the Resizeable BAR feature of PCI-Express similar to AMD's Smart Access Memory on 500-series motherboards.
It remains to be seen whether regressing somewhat from 10-cores on the flagship (potentially due to thermal limitations) and the likely continuance of their optimised 14nm manufacturing process will dissuade gamers from the platform. In-house testing has seen them retake a gaming lead over AMD's 5800X and 5900X, but the world will have to wait on independent results. Performance, and price, will be key.
As a postscript to the Keynote Bryant also showed a system based on the desktop Alder Lake platform. Alder Lake is a brand new architecture that utilises an innovative Big/Small core layout: a large high performance core and many smaller highly efficient cores. It will be their first consumer desktop processor to be built with their 10nm process (an enhanced version at that), and will likely require a new socket (and hence motherboard) platform. We may see them as early as Q4 2021, although a 2022 launch is more probable in the desktop space.
Intel's announcements at CES 2021 were wide-ranging, and gave no hint to being concerned by the threat posed by AMD, in part because their chief competitor is heavily limited by the 7nm production capacity at TSMC. Feature-packed mobile solutions continue to lead the way, and Rocket Lake-S may see them return to an even keel in performance gaming in the Spring. Their partners will have more announcements in the coming days, not to mention their competitors, but for now they can breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that an apparently genuine category-leading processor is imminent for the desktop and their position in the mobile market appears to be secure.